Murder Ballad

Prologue

 

She lay beside him smiling, her skin still sticky and electric from their lovemaking. He was already drifting off, but she couldn’t possibly sleep. She wasn’t even remotely tired. She rolled over and reached for her cigarettes on the nightstand. The soft pack had only a couple left in it and it crumpled a bit in her hand.

She scooched up just a bit in the bed and rolled over on her back. She drew a cigarette out of the pack and straightened it out a bit before resting it between her lips, then reached over and grabbed the pink Bic lighter from the nightstand, spun the wheel and pressed the small red button. A tiny flame popped up and she brought it close to her face and sucked.

She liked to smoke. The world had turned against her for that, but she was unapologetic. She loved the taste of it, the feeling of it, and even, yes, the smell of it. She loved the feeling of that first long drag. The tightness in her chest. The rush in her head. She loved exhaling and seeing the stream of smoke cutting through the air and filling the room. She loved smoking and, more than that, she loved smoking after sex.

She loved him too. That was the reason she couldn’t sleep. She had just realized that she loved this man. She knew she liked him, obviously. She didn’t go around sleeping with just anyone, but it just came to her that she loved him, and she was in the endorphin fuled rush of that realization.

She hadn’t told him yet. Hadn’t said it out loud, but she was sure he felt it too. The way that they had been just now, the way they had fit together, it had never been that way before. Not ever, not with anyone, except maybe, well, it didn’t matter now. Finally, nothing mattered except him and her.

She put out her cigarette and rolled over and put her arm around his chest. She ran her fingers through the hair on his chest and nibbled playfully at his earlobe.

“Mm, you smell like smoke,” he said.

“I know,” she said softly.

“Are you ready to sleep yet?” he asked.

“No,” she said.

“Okay,” he said and he opened his eyes.  He rolled slightly and turned his head to look at her.

“We should get married,” she said.

 

Chapter One

 

Cold air flooded her lungs like a crashing wave and she sat bolt upright in an instant.  Her heart pounded, her head throbbed. She tried to open her eyes, but found she couldn’t.  She turned her head and her neck cracked sending pain shooting down her shoulders and spine.  Her whole body felt sore and worn.  She licked her lips and found that her tongue was dry and, the taste of copper filled her mouth.

She sat still, starting to shake, listening to the faint sounds around her.  Distant traffic and a persistent ringing in her ears.

She strained to remember where she was, but her focus continued to steer back to the pain in her body.  She tried again and again to open her eyes. They were cracked at the corners leaking in watery yellow light. Blurry bokeh patterns filled her vision, but she still couldn’t see.

She made herself focus on her surroundings.  She was on the floor.  It was hard and smooth.  Was it tile?  The bathroom?  Had she fallen?  Knocked her head on the sink?  She ran her fingers along the surface below her.  The floor was hard wood, smooth with tiny seams between narrow planks.  It was warm.

It was wet.

A chill ran down her spine, the kind of cold shiver that always seems to come with the sudden return of a memory.  This wasn’t her home. She had left to see someone. Adrenaline began to flow and the fog in her mind lifted.

She tried to stand up, but her body felt like she had gone ten rounds with a Mack Truck.  With effort she managed to pull her knees up towards her chest and lay her feet flat on the floor.  She felt wetness between her toes.

She was barefoot!

Why?

She pushed hard with her legs and slid backward half a foot before she lost traction on the slick floor.  She tried again, and again, creeping backwards until she slammed into the wall behind her. She paused for a moment and listened to herself breathing.

Where was she?

She wiped her eyes with the side of her hand.  The sting was awful, but she pressed hard to clear them.  She heard the rattle of a locked doorknob, and forced her eyes open.

Her blood ran cold, and she choked on her breath.

The room she was in was enormous.  It must have taken up the entire floor of the building.  It glowed from the city lights streaming in through floor to ceiling windows. The space was cavernous, with no walls separating the rooms.  The floor was mahogany throughout, covered in spots by expensive looking rugs.  To her right was a large claw foot sofa and a high backed leather chair.  To her left, in the far corner was a king size four-poster bed with the sheets and blanket half on the floor next to-

She felt the room start to spin.

Next to the sheets and blankets and pillows, on the floor lay her clothes.

She looked down at herself. She was naked except for her panties, and covered in blood.  In front of her was a large pool of thick scarlet liquid. In it was the body of a man, naked as well, with a cell phone in one hand and a small pistol in the other.  In front of him, and right next to the spot she had woken up lay a large black gun.

CRACK!

The sound of the doorjamb splintering was like dynamite.  The girl lost her balance and fell back to the floor, catching the back of her head on the baseboard as she went down.  Pain shot like daggers through her scalp and into her eyes.  There was commotion all around her now, and blinding bright lights.

There were a dozen figures in black surrounding her and moving around the room.  Then there were hands on her, touching her body, her neck, her arms.  She squirmed to free herself, but it was useless.

“She’s alive,” she heard.

“He’s not,” came from someone else.

“Look at this,” from right next to her.

She felt her arm bent backwards and her fingers pried open.

“The pattern matches the grip on the gun,” from further away.

There was a flash of light and the distinct sound of a camera shutter.  She tried to scream, but couldn’t make a sound.  Now the hands were pushing her, rolling her, flipping her on her chest.  They pulled her arms behind her. There were more blinding flashes and the continued ‘flick flick’ of a camera shutter. Then the feeling of cold metal on her wrists.

“Miss… Miss?” she heard the voices but couldn’t speak to answer.

“Lady, what’s your name?”

She tried to struggle free of the handcuffs, but something heavy and solid came down on her back and held her still.

“Lady, your name?”

She coughed, swallowed hard and managed to get out, “Gavin.”

“Found a purse,” another voice said.  “I.D. says her name is Rose.  Weather Rose.”

“Miss Rose, you are under arrest for the murder of Special Counsel Brandon Grayson.  You have the right to remain…”

And again, everything went black.

 

***

 

The electric hum of the tires was hypnotic.  It wasn’t even nine in the evening, but twilight had faded to dark and left the view of Lake Michigan out Special Agent Kyle Flannery’s driver’s side window pitch black, quiet, and serene.

He loved this drive.  Of all the streets in all of the city of Chicago, he loved Lake Shore Drive the best.  It was long and winding and the city lights smeared across the wet pavement making it seem like he was driving across a ribbon of light.

He lifted his foot off the accelerator just a bit, slowed down to enjoy the painting he found himself in.  He wasn’t in a hurry.  He was, maybe, later than he had intended on being tonight, but since his special guest didn’t know he was coming, it didn’t really matter.

That’s not to say that tonight’s meeting wasn’t important to Agent Flannery.  It was. In fact it was crucial to him both personally and professionally.  He’d spent years building an unimpeachable reputation in the bureau.  A reputation so impeccable that he had been one of just a few agents hand picked for this assignment.  Then, in what seemed like a flash, he heard that name and his reputation went in the shitter.

Gavin Gayle.

Gavin Gayle was a name that floated around the seedy bars, drug kitchens, and public housing units of Chicago’s south side.  It was a sort of manifestation of the idea of justice.  If you get caught, better to plead guilty and do your time than to risk them sending Gavin after you.

He was a myth, or more accurately, a legend.  The man himself had certainly once been real, but most of his biography tended to be considered apocryphal.

Flannery too had had his doubts that he existed at all anymore.

 

The wheels of Agent Flannery’s SUV crackled over gravel and debris as he pulled up along the curb.  He was no longer on the smooth, gently arcing blacktop of LSD, now he was at the cracked and litter ridden intersection of Cermak Road and Halsted Street.  The building he was eyeing was across the street on the corner.  It was a run-down nondescript grey cinder block box which bore no signage that testified to any purpose, past or present.  The lone window on the front was covered in an iron cage and papered with old fliers and political posters.  The shabby awning that hung over the faded green front door was black and torn in several places.  Suspended from its center was a single bare incandescent light bulb glowing dimly.

Agent Flannery stepped out of his vehicle and walked across the damp pavement.  A gentle mist had begun to fall and it clung to the surface of his fresh shave with a static tension.  He stepped up over the curb and onto the crumbling sidewalk and strode up to the weathered door.  He could hear nothing coming from inside.  There was no activity anywhere in the visible area to suggest that this building was open for any kind of business, legal or otherwise.  Everything, besides the lit bulb six inches above his head, cried out that this cement box was completely abandoned.

The green door had a black hole where the doorknob should have been, and just above that was a small metal U-shaped handle like you might find on an old fence.  He grabbed the handle, gave a gentle tug and it came off in his hand. A sprinkle of rot wood sawdust fell on his shoes like snow.  Flannery sighed and tossed the handle aside, then wrapped firmly on the door.

He waited several seconds with no response, then, as he lifted his hand to knock again, the door creaked open.  Towering in the doorway was a very large, very solid, very black man.  Flannery quickly estimated he stood six foot six inches tall and weighed maybe three hundred and fifty pounds.  He wore a sharp, black pinstriped suit sans the jacket, and a black leather shoulder holster across his back with a large weapon hanging just under his left armpit.  He stood silently between Flannery and the door, staring down at him.  Quickly the silence became uncomfortable.

“Hi there. I’m here to see Gavin Gayle,” Flannery said in his most casual, yet official tone.

“Private club.”

“Clearly,” Flannery reached into his inside breast pocket and pulled out his badge.  “Is that a registered firearm you are wearing?”

The door man leaned forward and produced a small pen sized flashlight which he used to inspect Flannery’s credentials, then he straightened up again.

“The F.B.I. sending agents out to check F.O.I.D. cards now?”

Flannery smiled.

“Not as a general rule, no, but if I can’t make my appointment I might get bored.”

The doorman gave a deep chuckle from deep inside his chest.

“Appointment huh?”

Agent Flannery shrugged.

“Right, okay.”

The doorman stepped forward, ducking under the door frame. Flannery felt a brief moment of panic and took a step back defensively while his right hand slid to his hip where his service weapon was holstered snugly under his jacket, but the enormous man only stepped aside and waved Flannery through the door.

Flannery took a deep breath and three cautious steps forward keeping his eyes on the man the whole way.  The door man stepped back into the space behind him and closed the heavy wooden door plunging the space into blackness.

“Watch your step,” he said as the door clicked shut.

Flannery froze, and instantly raised both arms.  To his surprise, both hands met smooth hard surfaces.  He spun ninety degrees and dropped back so that his back was pressed against the wall to his left.  His legs spread slightly for balance while his right hand found the pistol at his waist and his thumb snapped open the strap that secured the weapon.  His left hand  drew the small LED flashlight that lived in a nylon sleeve on his belt, but before it could be lit he felt a large hand on his shoulder gently encouraging him forward in the space.

“Down the stairs,” suggested the baritone voice of the doorman.

Flannery’s pupils were gradually dilating and he could begin to make out a shape to the space he was in.  It was a short corridor no wider than the door he had come in through.  There was no artificial  lighting in the hallway, but about six feet in front of him was a shallow staircase that seemed to have a very slight glow emanating from it.  Between him and the stairs was a metal folding chair against the opposite wall.  The doorman pushed past him and took a seat in the chair.

“Down the stairs,” he insisted again.

Agent Flannery shook off his disorientation and released the grip on his Glock.  He squeezed his way past the doorman and descended the stairs.

The bottom of the staircase was a four foot by four foot square concrete slab with a small drain in the middle. The light came from two wall sconces, each with one lit bulb shaped like a candle flame and one burnt out bulb.  In front of him was an ornate, heavy door with a rough cast iron handle.  He pushed it open and stepped through.

The space inside was dark.  Shockingly dark in fact.  As best Agent Flannery could tell, the only light in the whole place came from small oil and wick tea lights that adorned the two dozen or so two person tables placed seemingly at random throughout the space.  It was also surprisingly large.  Much larger than the footprint of the building it sat beneath, and quiet, there were maybe twenty people in the whole place, all of whom seemed engaged in various hushed conversations.  The only audible sound was coming from a well worn blonde upright piano being played poorly by a waify redhead in the corner of the room nearest the door he just came through.

The bar was long, taking up most of the far wall and badly beaten up, with scars and chips in the brown wood surface that had long ago lost any polish or finish.  Browning yellow foam pushed through splits in the faux leather bar rail.  Mismatched bar stools lined the length of it and the few patrons who sat there were drinking from foggy, chipped glasses that barely revealed their contents.

At the back of the room was a slightly raised area that held a few highboy tables and a dark corner booth that faced the entrance.  Sitting in the booth was a man in his late twenties or early thirties, but with a face worn many years past that.  His dirty blond hair fell in messy loose curls over his ears and just past his eyes, which were deep and shadowed, and obscured from view.

“Can I help you Agent?”

Flannery jerked his head to the side to see a young man standing at a host station.  He was wearing  a violet shirt and white tie, white vest, and white linen slacks that ended in expensive white dress shoes and no socks.  Flannery reached for his badge and started to announce “F.B.I.” when what the man had already said caught up with him.

“Oh, uh, no.  I’m here to see him,” he said and gestured across the room to the man in the booth.

“I really rather doubt that,” said the host effeminately.  “Perhaps I can find you another table.  Maybe one at another establishment?”

Flannery flashed surprise, then indignance.

“And maybe you’d like this shithole to be the next big Fed bar in Chicago.”

The host smiled unfazed.

“Generally, in this room, Agent, we don’t make threats we aren’t going to follow through on.”

Flannery felt himself losing his temper.

“And generally I don’t, oh ya know what?  Fuck off!” Agent Flannery tried to shove the smart ass host out of the way, but the host just stepped back and motioned for Flannery to go ahead.

Agent Flannery whispered “shit head,” under his breath and walked past him to the booth in the back of the room.

 

***

 

A heavy powder blue steel door slammed shut with a hollow clang that echoed through the small cinder block room.  Weather Rose sat bolt upright at the small stainless steel table that was situated in the middle of the room.  Both her hands lay flat on the table in front of her, handcuffed, with the connecting chain run through a small metal loop that was welded to the center of the table.

She looked to the right and inspected herself in the wall to wall mirror adjacent to where she sat.  She was wearing orange police issued cotton pants, shirt and underwear as the police had confiscated her clothes as evidence.

Her face was bruised and still spattered with blood that had dried to a rusty brown color and was flaking off in places.  Her hair was clumped together and she had deep purple bags under her eyes.  Most alarmingly, she had a deep gash on her neck just above her collarbone that burned badly.  The doctor at the hospital said it was caused by a bullet grazing her neck.  An inch to the left and she would be in a steel drawer now instead of in handcuffs.

She knew she was in trouble.  Big trouble.  What she didn’t know was why.  Who was this guy she had woken up next to, and why had he been killed?  Why the hell was she called there?  Who had called her there in the first place?

“Gavin is dead.”

That is what they had said.

The metal door swung open violently, bouncing off the wall behind it.  Two tall men in plain, and slightly wrinkled, blue suits walked in.  One of them came forward and sat in the chair across from her.  The other leaned his left shoulder against the wall.  The three of them, Weather and the two suits, stared at each other in silence and the heavy metal door clicked shut.

The situation was curious. She was terrified, and confused.  She was off balance and probably seemed a little crazy, but the cops questioning her seemed almost blase about the whole thing.

She was under arrest for the murder of a Federal Law Enforcement Official and sitting in county jail, presumably waiting for the F.B.I. to arrive and the two detectives questioning her were talking to her like they were doing her taxes.  One asking her questions in a sleepy monotone voice, the other recording her answers, or lack thereof, with a dull pencil in a ratty black notebook.

“Miss Rose, what were you doing at Special Council Grayson’s personal residence?”

Weather tried to lean back in her chair, but the chain between her wrists caught on the loop and tugged on her shoulders uncomfortably, so she leaned forward and rested on her elbows.  She gave a long questioning look at the detective, let out an exasperated sigh and began picking at her fingernails silently.

“Miss Rose, how did you know Mr. Grayson?”

Weather dug a small piece of dirt out from under one of her french manicured nails and wiped it on the table in front of her.

“Miss Rose, were you having a sexual relationship with Mr. Grayson?”

This elicited a slight head cock and she began working on the next nail.

“Miss Rose, at the crime scene you said you were there to see someone named Gavin.  Miss Rose, who is Gavin?”

Weather stopped her nail cleaning and looked up at the detective.  She didn’t remember mentioning Gavin, but she had to admit that she didn’t remember much about those hours very clearly.  She supposed she could have said something, but clearly nothing useful or they wouldn’t be asking.  She sipped the air through pursed lips, paused and gave a long exhale before returning to grooming her nails.  The detective with the notebook scribbled something in shorthand then set the pencil down.

“Miss Rose,” the detective continued, “did you kill Special Council Brandon Grayson?”

Weather wiped another piece of debris on the table.

 

***

 

Agent Flannery crossed the chipped and cracking hardwood floor of the club and approached the dimly lit table in the back corner.  His companion sat, leaning back, casually watching him advance.  Flannery sized him up quickly.

Seated he appeared to be about five foot eleven and made out of clay.  He had a hard angular body like you’d expect from intense prison workouts.  He wore a heavily starched and well pressed expensive looking white button up shirt with french cuffs, opal cuff links, and black suspenders.  His hair, while untamed was professionally cut.  He had a pricey looking designer watch. No visible piercings, but the tip of a tattoo peeked out from under the cuff of his right wrist.

In front of him sat a half full ashtray, an open silver cigarette case, and gold Zippo lighter. His foggy rocks glass contained the last bit of some kind of brown booze in it.  He was calm and relaxed, noticing Flannery approach but not staring him down.  He lifted a cigarette out of the ashtray and took a long drag off of it, then stamped it out in the ashtray before exhaling and looking up just as Agent Flannery stepped up to the table.

The two men stared at each other for several seconds, then Flannery drew a breath to speak, but was interrupted.

“Agent Flannery.”

Gavin stood and extended his hand.

“Nice to meet you, I’m Gavin.  You’re a little later than I had expected.  No matter.  Please, have a seat.”

Gavin gestured at the seat across from him.  Flannery looked at him suspiciously, then pulled out the chair and sat down.

“What time, exactly, were you expecting me Mr. Gayle?” Flannery said trying to hide his surprise.

Gavin laughed and drew an expensive looking cigarette out of the silver case.  It was long with black paper wrapping and a gold foil filter.

“Don’t worry Agent.  Honestly, I had no idea you were coming tonight, but I knew you’d show up here sooner or later.”

He smiled and tapped the cigarette filter on the table in front of him.

“So when I saw a Fed walking up to my table all business like, I just assumed.  I could have been wrong though.”

He lit his cigarette and took a drag and lifted the cigarette case to offer it to Flannery who waved it off.  Gavin set it back on the table with a shrug.

“So what is it I can do for you Agent?”

Flannery frowned.

“Smoking is illegal in restaurants and bars in Illinois.”

Gavin laughed mid inhale and choked on the smoke.

“Agent Flannery, have you been tracking me down for months so that you can give me a smoking ticket?”

Agent Flannery gave a sarcastic grin.

“No, I’m just curious about people who think the rules don’t apply to them.  What else do you think you’re above?”

“We all choose which laws to follow and which to ignore Agent.  A law only means something if it’s actually enforced.  We break the speed limit, have a friendly poker night, maybe even pee in an alley if we really gotta go.”

Flannery smiled.

“Did you know, Agent, that it is illegal to enter the city of Chicago in an automobile without first contacting the police and giving them notice.  It’s true.  It’s an old law, but it’s still on the books.  It’s impractical today, but still, it’s a law thousands of people break every single day.  The police don’t enforce it.  Most of them probably don’t even know it exists.  So, if law enforcement doesn’t enforce it, is it really a law? I mean for all practical purposes?”

“Cute,” said Agent Flannery.

Gavin dragged off his cigarette.

“Yeah, the point is, I follow all the laws that the people who enforce the laws expect me too.”

“And the smoking?”

Gavin smiled.

“Private club.  No ban on smoking here.”

Agent Flannery smiled, looked at the floor and said, “Touche.”

Gavin nodded his head in response.

A busty brunette in a short black skirt and white men’s button up shirt stepped up to the table and, ignoring Flannery, asked Gavin if everything was okay.

“Everything’s fine Katie.  This is my friend, Special Agent Flannery of the F.B.I.  Agent Flannery and I were just discussing the merits of the public smoking ban.”

“Well, freedom’s just another word for nothing else to lose.  Isn’t that right Agent?” Katie said in a voice so sweet you could hardly hear the condescension.  “Can I refill your drink Mr. Gayle?”

“Please.”

“Agent?”

Flannery glanced at Gavin, then relaxed back into his chair.

“What are we drinking Mr. Gayle?”

“Rye, rocks.”

“What he’s having.”

Katie nodded and walked away.

“So, other than where I choose to smoke, was there something else you wanted to discuss with me Agent?”

“As a matter of fact, there was,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          ” Agent Flannery said.

“I’m all ears.”

“September first, two thousand fourteen.” Flannery paused, but nothing filled the silence.  “September first, two years ago a colleague of mine, Postal Inspector Michael Carrigan was shot and killed in a dark alley in the Folsom Meatpacking District.  He had been working with me on a corruption case and then BAM!”

Flannery clapped his hands together loudly.

“The day before he’s set to testify in court, he’s gunned down for no apparent reason in an area of the city that he had no reason to be in.”

“And you think that I killed him?” Gavin said in a confused tone.

Flannery stared at him incredulously for a moment.

“No.  As a matter of fact I don’t think you killed him, but I’m damn near certain that you were there when he was killed.”

Flannery sipped his drink and leaned back in his chair.

“Hmm,” was all Gavin gave in response.

Agent Flannery sat forward again and leaned in across the table.

“Oh, but Agent Flannery,” Flannery said mockingly, “how could you possibly know that?”

Gavin tilted his head and raised his eyebrows.

“Well, you see, someone cleaned up the crime scene,” Flannery whispered, then leaned back in his seat again and said aloud, “they did it well too.  Shell casings picked up, bullets dug out of the bricks of the buildings.  Not even any blood evidence besides Inspector Carrigan’s, but one thing was missed.  One tiny little detail overlooked.  There was a single bullet that was missed.  Buried deep in the trash in the dumpster in the alley.”

Gavin dragged on his cigarette and crossed his arms.

“The bullet wasn’t perfect, but punching through the thin metal of a dumpster is a lot less damaging than hitting a brick wall.  We were able to match the ballistics.  It matched a bullet collected two years prior.”

Gavin nodded for him to continue.

“Four years ago you were admitted to Stroger Hospital with a gunshot wound to your left shoulder.”

Another pause, more silence.

“Maybe you’d like to tell me about that.”

“Sounds to me like you already know everything.”

“Not at all.  I’d love to know how that happened.”

“Well, that makes two of us.  I’m not even sure I know what you’re talking about.”

Flannery rolled his eyes.

“You don’t know what I’m talking about?”

Gavin shrugged.

The waitress returned to the table with the drinks and set them in front of the men.

“Can I get you gentlemen anything else right now?”

“Not a thing.  Thank you so much Katie.”

Agent Flannery nodded in agreement.  He took a sip of his drink and looked back at the glass approvingly.

“That’s very good.”

“Thank you Agent Flannery,” Gavin said.

“You were in prison.”

Gavin shifted in his seat and put his right arm over the back of the bench and extended the other one to put out his cigarette.

“Is that a question?”

“No.  No, I’m sorry, not at all.  I know you were in prison.  In fact, as far as I can tell you, should still be in prison.  You were in prison for beating a teenage boy to death with your bare hands. You got eighteen years for that. Also, I know it was because you thought he slept with your girlfriend.  No, I know all that, what I don’t know, what’s driving me crazy is when, why, or how you got out of prison.”

Gavin slid another cigarette out of his case and tapped the filter unconsciously on the table top.  Flannery leaned forward in his seat and slid the gold Zippo lying between them across the table.  Gavin caught it just before it found the edge.

“You smoke a lot.” Flannery said.

Gavin flipped the lighter open and lit the flame, brought it to his lips and lit the cigarette with three short puffs followed by one long draw which he left in his lungs for several seconds before releasing it quickly through an open mouth.

“I’m sorry, was that a question?”

“The smoking thing?”

“No.”

“The prison thing?”

“Yes Agent.”

“Yes, Gavin, that was a question.”

“Well, Agent,” another drag off the cigarette, “I would think that that kind of information would be easily accessible from the prison I was allegedly in, to an F.B.I. Agent like yourself.”

“Ah-ha!  See, I would think so too, so I asked.  Do you know what they told me Mr. Gayle?”

Gavin lifted his eyebrows inquisitively.

“They told me that you died.”

Another pregnant pause.

“They said that Gavin Gayle was killed while serving time.”

“Well,” Gavin gulped down the last of his drink, ground out his cigarette and stood up, “that seems pretty conclusive to me.”

“It does?  How’s that?”

“Well Agent, if the Gavin Gayle that you are looking for died in prison, then I am obviously not him.”

Agent Flannery looked at Gavin blankly.

“I’m quite alive, I assure you.”

“Is that so?” Flannery said drolly.

“So it seems,” said Gavin with just a touch of agitation in his voice.

With that, he pulled the jacket off the back of his chair, and in one fluid movement, spun it onto himself and swept his items off the table and into his pockets.  He bent down and lifted a well worn, slightly battered nineteen forties era fedora off the floor and placed it on his head.  He dropped a very crisp fifty dollar bill on the table, lifted his hat to Agent Flannery, and with a Cheshire grin, turned on his heels and strolled confidently out of the club.

Flannery sipped his drink.  That hadn’t gone exactly how he had expected it to.

He pulled his phone from the inside breast pocket of his blazer and looked at the screen.  Two missed calls and a voicemail from Special Council Grayson, and eight missed calls from the S.A.I.C.  Something was wrong.  Flannery stood up from the table and was back in his car in sixty seconds flat.

 

***

 

Gavin sat in the driver’s seat of his car.  The keys were in the ignition, but he hadn’t yet started the engine.  He sat silently in the dark and rubbed his eyes hard with his fingertips, then ran his fingers through his hair to the back of his neck and squeezed at the tension in his shoulders.  He slid his right hand into the collar of his shirt and fingered the scar tissue from the bullet wound in his shoulder.  The injury, though healed, was still tender, and ached in times of stress.

So, the F.B.I. wanted to know about the Carrigan shooting, and somehow someone had attached his name to the hospital trip two years before that. He sighed, lit a cigarette and cracked the window of the car just a bit.

“Three people can keep a secret.” He whispered to himself. “As long as two of them are dead.”

He exhaled a long stream of grey smoke into the cold air and stared distantly out the windshield of the car.

The door to the club burst open and Agent Flannery flew out, sprinting to his black government issued SUV parked across the street.  The tail lights lit up and the wheels spun in the loose gravel before the vehicle tore out and down the street disappearing into the night.

Gavin turned the key in the ignition and his beautifully restored, black 1970 Firebird roared to life.  He pulled out the knob for his headlights, tossed the cigarette out the window and slipped the car into first gear, turned the steering wheel hard and eased onto the street towards home.